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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2017-01-22T19:13:27Z

 



Wallace Stevens, the Detached Poet

2017-01-22T19:13:27Z

Mark Dunbar in The American Conservative: The European poet Paul Celan once said that a poem “intends another, needs this other, needs an opposite.” For Wallace Stevens, this otherness was the world at large—the reason, perhaps, why his poetry contained...Mark Dunbar in The American Conservative: The European poet Paul Celan once said that a poem “intends another, needs this other, needs an opposite.” For Wallace Stevens, this otherness was the world at large—the reason, perhaps, why his poetry contained so little but expressed so much. Stevens was born October 2, 1879, and died August 2, 1955. Between these two dates quite a lot happened in the world. Fanatical ideologies were born, took control of states, and were defeated. Two global wars were fought: the first began with skirmishes on horseback and the second ended with the splitting of the atom. Human aviation was established, then militarized, and, finally, commercialized. Economic depressions wiped out the general optimism of the 19th century, and welfare systems were put in place as acts of material expiation. Frantic voices—either approvingly or with alarm—cried out that politics had replaced religion as society’s moral centrifuge. Telephones, cars, and antibiotics became commonplace, and the modern computer was already beginning its ascendancy toward societal ubiquitousness. Stevens, however, was always somewhere else when the action happened and never spoke intelligently afterward about what took place. In Paul Mariani’s biography of him, The Whole Harmonium, one of the things that stands out is how little effect any of these tragedies or trends had on Stevens’s life or his poetry. Modern technology rarely appears in his poems. Planes don’t naggingly fly overhead and the telephone doesn’t interrupt the neurotic aesthetician. Scant political images can be found in a handful of his poems but never any political ideals. More here. [...]



The History of Popularity

2017-01-22T18:59:57Z

Rayyan Al-Shawaf in the Los Angeles Review of Books: David Hajdu, on the first page of Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, dismisses the category of popular music: Of the countless terms for categories of music […] the least...Rayyan Al-Shawaf in the Los Angeles Review of Books: David Hajdu, on the first page of Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, dismisses the category of popular music: Of the countless terms for categories of music […] the least useful phrase I know is “popular music.” It provides no information about the music itself: no suggestion of how it sounds or what mood it might conjure, no indication of the traditions it grows from or defies, and no hint of whether it could be good for dancing, for solitary listening, or for anything else. Yet he went and wrote a book on the subject — go figure — and a fine one at that. Love for Sale examines the shape-shifting undergone by popular music, from minstrelsy to hip-hop, and the equally protean ways in which it has reached the public, from printed notation sheets for do-it-yourself parlor revelry in days of yore to the streaming and downloading of our digital era. The result is an exceptionally astute and stimulating account of music in the United States from the late 19th century until the early 21st. Hajdu’s propensity for stepping away from the hit parade in order to mingle with its architects as well as members of its audience not only militates against the monotony that a straightforward chronicle of the charts would generate, but it also fleshes out the social context of the songs under discussion. The author also fills in the history of popularity for different kinds of music before 1940, when Billboard, which already compiled and published lists of popular songs, devised a system of charts — albeit an imperfect one — for tracking their sales. More here. [...]



Both NASA and NOAA declare that our planet is experiencing record-breaking warming for the third year in a row

2017-01-22T18:54:22Z

Andrea Thompson in Scientific American: 2016 was the hottest year in 137 years of record keeping and the third year in a row to take the number one slot, a mark of how much the world has warmed over the...Andrea Thompson in Scientific American: 2016 was the hottest year in 137 years of record keeping and the third year in a row to take the number one slot, a mark of how much the world has warmed over the last century because of human activities, U.S. government scientists announced Wednesday. 2016 is a “data point at the end of many data points that indicates” long-term warming, Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of the National Centers for Environmental Information, said. While the record was expected, the joint announcement by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came in the midst of Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees, several of whom have expressed doubts about established climate science, as has Trump himself. Many climate scientists, policy experts and environmentalists are concerned about the potential for the incoming administration to limit funding for climate science and roll back both national and international progress toward limiting the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. According to NOAA data, the global average temperature for 2016 was 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average and 0.07°F (0.04°C) above the previous record set last year. In NASA’s records, 2016 was 1.8°F (0.99°C) above the 1951-1980 average. Each agency has slightly different methods of processing the data and different baseline periods they use for comparison, as do other groups around the world that monitor global temperatures, leading to slightly different year-to-year numbers. But despite these differences, all of these records “are capturing the same long-term signal. It’s a pretty unmistakable signal,” Arndt said. Or as he likes to put it: “They’re singing the same song, even if they’re hitting different notes along the way.” More here. [...]



Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats

2017-01-22T18:45:26Z

John Holbo in Crooked Timber: I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’ One place to start is to ask...John Holbo in Crooked Timber: I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’ One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others. In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it. The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people. Wilkinson goes on to talk about other, non-Haidt stuff that contributes to polarization. I like that better. (I think Wilkinson does, too.) But I want to grouse about Haidt, who I think has done interesting empirical work but who commits what I regard as terrible howlers when it comes to moral theory, and when it comes to reasoning about practical, normative implications of his work. More here. [...]



Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

2017-01-22T18:36:52Z

Jean-Paul Delahaye in Inference Review: In November 2008, a paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published online.1 The system described in the paper, including a monetary unit termed “bitcoins,” embodied the world’s first cryptocurrency. The most striking...Jean-Paul Delahaye in Inference Review: In November 2008, a paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was published online.1 The system described in the paper, including a monetary unit termed “bitcoins,” embodied the world’s first cryptocurrency. The most striking characteristic of the bitcoin system is the complete absence of any form of centralized control. There is no role for governments, financial institutions, or regulatory bodies. The system is completely autonomous. Peer-to-peer networking technology and mathematical encryption form the basis for the system. A distributed ledger, known as the blockchain, maintains a public record of all transactions. In the absence of trusted third parties, the security and maintenance of the system is a shared responsibility. On January 3, 2009, with access limited to a select few cryptologists, the bitcoin software was released and the first bitcoins issued. Bitcoin was not, it must be noted, an overnight success. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the system really began to take off. That year saw a fifty-fold increase in valuation, so that by January 2014, a bitcoin was worth around nine hundred euros. A series of advances and declines since then has seen the value of bitcoins fluctuate. Against the expectations of some observers, the currency has recovered and a bitcoin is again worth around six hundred euros.2 There are now more than seven hundred cryptocurrencies competing with bitcoin.3 Their success to date has been limited, with a cumulative capitalization of only around twenty percent that of bitcoin. The total capitalization of the bitcoins issued thus far amounts to more than fifteen billion euros. Although credited to Satoshi Nakamoto, the true identity of the person, or people, responsible for the bitcoin paper remains unknown. More here. [...]



william onyeabor (1946 - 2017)

2017-01-22T14:11:00Z

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jimmy snuka (1943 - 2017)

2017-01-22T14:08:00Z

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buddy greco (1926 - 2017)

2017-01-22T14:04:00Z

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Reality Is Not What It Seems

2017-01-22T12:17:20Z

Ian Thomson in The Guardian: Carlo Rovelli’s slim poetic meditation Seven Brief Lessons on Physics managed to clarify the troubling uncertainties of Einsteinian relativity, quantum theory and other physical exotica. Less than 80 pages long, it became one of the...Ian Thomson in The Guardian: Carlo Rovelli’s slim poetic meditation Seven Brief Lessons on Physics managed to clarify the troubling uncertainties of Einsteinian relativity, quantum theory and other physical exotica. Less than 80 pages long, it became one of the fastest-selling science books ever, and has now sold a million copies worldwide. Not since Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time had there been such a consensual success in the science book market; in the author’s native Italy the lessons even outsold Fifty Shades of Grey. Reality Is Not What It Seems – a deeper, more intellectually challenging meditation – outlines for the general reader some of the key developments in physics from the ancient Greek philosophers and the Roman poet Lucretius to the present day. In the Italian professor’s elucidation, physics goes deeper than any other science into the riddle of existence. The laws of physics – gravity, energy, motion – underpin those of chemistry, astrophysics and meteorology combined. So an understanding of the world requires some grasp of physics. This book aims to make that grasp easier for the layperson. ...In a superb chapter on Dante and his conception of paradise and the cosmos, Rovelli writes: “Our culture is foolish to keep science and poetry separated,” adding: “they are two tools to open our eyes to the complexity and beauty of the world.” Like the Italian scientist-writer Primo Levi, Rovelli sees no incompatibility between the two cultures, only mutual attraction. In Lucretius’s long philosophical poem, On the Nature of Things, he finds a luminous celebration of the mysteries of the natural world that anticipated a large part of contemporary physics. Atoms are the sole “building blocks” of the universe, Lucretius observed. Lucretius did not know it, but he was writing about the quintessential atom of life – carbon – at a time when atomic theory did not exist. On the Nature of Things only became “modern” in 1417, however, when the papal scribe and humanist Poggio Bracciolini chanced on the last surviving manuscript of the poem in a German monastery. Subsequently, the poem was translated and disseminated widely. Shakespeare struck a Lucretian note in Romeo and Juliet, Rovelli writes, where the phantasmagoric Queen Mab is believed to have a “team of little atomies” at her command. More here. [...]



Sunday Poem

2017-01-22T14:01:12Z

The depth of value of a thing is in how much its missed. ............................ —Roshi Bob The Executive’s Death Merchants have multiplied more than the stars of heaven Half the population are like the long grasshoppers That sleep in the...The depth of value of a thingis in how much its missed............................. —Roshi BobThe Executive’s Death Merchants have multiplied more than the stars of heavenHalf the population are like the long grasshoppers   That sleep in the bushes in the cool of the day; The sound of their wings is heard at noon, muffled, near the earth. The crane handler dies; the taxi driver dies, slumped over   In his taxi. Meanwhile high in the air an executive   Walks on cool floors, and suddenly falls. Dying, he dreams he is lost in a snowbound mountain   On which he crashed, carried at night by great machines.   As he lies on the wintry slope, cut off and dying,   A pine stump talks to him of Goethe and Jesus.   Commuters arrive in Hartford at dusk like moles   Or hares flying from a fire behind them, And the dusk in Hartford is full of their sighs. Their trains come through the air like a dark music, Like the sound of horns, the sound of thousands of small wings. by Robert Blyfrom The Light Around the BodyHarperCollins Publishers, 1967. [...]



An inaugural poem of protest by Robert Pinsky

2017-01-21T18:48:40Z

Robert Pinsky at CNN: 'Exile and Lightning' You choose your ancestors our Ancestor Ralph Ellison wrote. Now, fellow-descendants, we endure a Moment of charismatic indecency And sanctimonious greed. Falsehood Beyond shame. Our Polish Grandfather Milosz and African American Grandmother Brooks...Robert Pinsky at CNN: 'Exile and Lightning' You choose your ancestors ourAncestor Ralph Ellison wrote.   Now, fellow-descendants, we endure aMoment of charismatic indecencyAnd sanctimonious greed. FalsehoodBeyond shame. Our Polish GrandfatherMilosz and African American Grandmother BrooksEndured worse than this.Fight first, then fiddle she wrote. Our great-grandmother Emma LazarusWrote that the flame of the lamp of theMother of Exiles is "Imprisoned lightning." My fellow children of exileAnd lightning, the indecencyConstructs its own statuary.But our uncle Ernesto CardenalSays, sabemos que el pueblola derribará un día. The people Will tear it down. Milosz says,Beautiful and very young, meaning recent,Are poetry and philo-sophia, meaning science,Her ally in the service of the good . ...Their enemies, he wrote, have deliveredThemselves to destruction.   "Un dia," and "very young" -- that longAncestral view of time:Inheritors, el pueblo, fellow-exiles:All the quicker our need toFight and make music. As GwendolynBrooks wrote, To civilize a space. From here. [...]



J.M. Coetzee: Antonio Di Benedetto is a Great Writer We Should Know

2017-01-21T18:26:21Z

J.M. Coetzee in the New York Review of Books: The year is 1790, the place an unnamed outpost on the Paraguay River ruled from faraway Buenos Aires. Don Diego de Zama has been here for fourteen months, serving in the...J.M. Coetzee in the New York Review of Books: The year is 1790, the place an unnamed outpost on the Paraguay River ruled from faraway Buenos Aires. Don Diego de Zama has been here for fourteen months, serving in the Spanish administration, separated from his wife and sons. Nostalgically Zama looks back to the days when he was a corregidor (chief administrator) with a district of his own to run: Doctor Don Diego de Zama!… The forceful executive, the pacifier of Indians, the warrior who rendered justice without recourse to the sword…, who put down the native rebellion without wasting a drop of Spanish blood. Now, under a new, centralized system of government meant to tighten Spain’s control over its colonies, chief administrators have to be Spanish-born. Zama serves as second-in-command to a Spanish gobernador: as a Creole, an americano born in the New World, he can aspire no higher. He is in his mid-thirties; his career is stagnating. He has applied for a transfer; he dreams of the letter from the viceroy that will whisk him away to Buenos Aires, but it does not come. Strolling around the docks, he notices a corpse floating in the water, the corpse of a monkey that had dared to quit the jungle and dive into the flux. Yet even in death the monkey is trapped amid the piles of the wharf, unable to escape downriver. Is it an omen? More here. [...]



No sign of seasonal dark matter after four years of searching

2017-01-21T18:20:20Z

Jennifer Oullette in New Scientist: Dark matter has just suffered another blow. Only one experiment claims to have seen signs of the mysterious stuff, and now the massive XENON100 experiment has failed to find any evidence for that signal. This...Jennifer Oullette in New Scientist: Dark matter has just suffered another blow. Only one experiment claims to have seen signs of the mysterious stuff, and now the massive XENON100 experiment has failed to find any evidence for that signal. This may put the controversial signal to rest once and for all – but some say it’s not that simple. Dark matter is a mysterious substance that makes up roughly 23 per cent of our universe. We know it’s there because of the gravitational force it exerts on normal matter, but it’s devilishly difficult to detect. Myriad experiments have been trying to do just that, most buried deep underground to block out troublesome cosmic rays. But while there have been a few tantalising hints here and there, nothing has reached the threshold required to count as detection – with one exception. In 1998, scientists at the DAMA experiment buried deep in Italy’s Gran Sasso mountain claimed to have detected dark matter in the form of a weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP) weighing around 10 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). The rate of recorded blips as particles collide with the nuclei of the detector material varied with the seasons. The DAMA scientists attributed this to the Earth moving through a “wind” of dark matter as it orbits the sun. DAMA’s signal was unmistakable, but many physicists argued that other factors besides dark matter could explain it. It didn’t help that the DAMA team refused to share their data publicly or collaborate with other researchers, making it more difficult to test those claims. More here. [...]



Joel Whitney's "Finks" explores how the CIA used writers to fight the Cold War

2017-01-21T14:59:47Z

John Semley in The Globe and Mail: Since finishing Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia a few weeks ago, I have been gripped by one singular ambition: moving to Moscow....John Semley in The Globe and Mail: Since finishing Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia a few weeks ago, I have been gripped by one singular ambition: moving to Moscow. I desire nothing more than getting an exorbitant, unturndownable job offer at a media company in the Russian capital, moving there and working diligently at spreading Kremlin propaganda and misinformation. My motivations – beyond the rather obvious allure of “being evil” – are simple. Pomerantsev, a Russian-born Brit who made a similar move, makes the idea seem so bizarrely enticing. As described in his book, Putin’s post-post-perestroika Russia is a place of astonishing intellectual fertility. It’s a place where TV producers, film directors and journalists engage with high-level philosophy and critical theory, all in the aim of serving the authoritarian interests of the state. It sounds awful (or indeed, straight-up evil) but it offers a certain kind of clarity: In Putin’s Russia, no matter how slippery the ground may seem, you always know where you stand. Sure, everything may be a sham. But at least everyone knows it’s a sham. It may all seem reprehensible. Certainly, such media operations constitute an ostensible affront to what Joel Whitney, in his new book about America’s own insidious control of domestic and foreign journalism, identifies as “the traditional adversarial role of media, a role that at least theoretically checked government power and guarded against overreach.” But what Whitney’s Finks makes astonishingly, harrowingly clear is that such affronts are a matter of course in the United States as well, where intellectuals, editors and self-styled belletrists were employed as CIA stooges during the Cold War. Sometimes they have had plausible deniability. But in many more cases, they collaborated all too willingly. More here. [...]



The Greatest Innovations from Formula One Racing

2017-01-21T14:47:10Z

Video length: 11:59

Video length: 11:59

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‘True South’ Illuminates the Man Behind ‘Eyes on the Prize’

2017-01-21T14:03:22Z

Dwight Garner at The New York Times: By all accounts, the documentary filmmaker Henry Hampton (1940-1998), the force behind the pathbreaking civil rights series “Eyes on the Prize,” was larger than life. He was athletic, easy on the eyes, a...Dwight Garner at The New York Times: By all accounts, the documentary filmmaker Henry Hampton (1940-1998), the force behind the pathbreaking civil rights series “Eyes on the Prize,” was larger than life. He was athletic, easy on the eyes, a public intellectual, a sharp dresser and a mensch. He was possessed of a big-bearded bonhomie. As a child, he’d had polio and mostly lost the use of his left leg. Soon he was playing on championship wheelchair basketball teams. In his 20s, as lay director of information for the Unitarian Universalist church, he marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., while wearing a steel leg brace. He opened his film company, Blackside, in Boston in 1968. He slowly gathered around him an assortment of young people who would become many of America’s leading documentarians. They loved him like a father, Jon Else suggests in his new book, “True South: Henry Hampton and ‘Eyes on the Prize,’ the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement.” He also drove them insane. more here. [...]



MARTUTENE BY RAMÓN SAIZARBITORIA

2017-01-21T14:00:29Z

Jacob Singer at The Quarterly Conversation: The 2013 publication of Martutene earned Ramón Saizarbitoria his second Euskadi Literature Prize and helped to cement his status as one of the patriarchs of Basque literature. A grand and audacious novel, Martutene is...Jacob Singer at The Quarterly Conversation: The 2013 publication of Martutene earned Ramón Saizarbitoria his second Euskadi Literature Prize and helped to cement his status as one of the patriarchs of Basque literature. A grand and audacious novel, Martutene is just over 800 pages and presents a nuanced perspective of the contemporary Basque experience. History, politics, language, and culture ripple through the characters’ daily interactions. Saizarbitoria dramatizes the best and worst of the contemporary Basque experience—national pride and cultural intolerance, as well as gastronomy and terrorism. It is important to recognize the cultural significance surrounding the English publication of this novel. Saizarbitoria has published twelve books, yet he is most likely unfamiliar to most American readers of translated literature because only one of his books has appeared in English: Rossetti’s Obsession, published through the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Yet he is worthy of much greater renown. One of the impetuses for the publication of Martutene in English was the book’s energetic reception in Spain; among other commendations, the jury of the Euskadi Literature Prize (2014) declared it “the most important novel of Basque-language literature and the top one in terms of quality too, destined to be the core of the Basque canon.” more here. [...]



'Reality Is Not What It Seems' by Carlo Rovelli

2017-01-21T13:57:44Z

Ian Thomson at The Guardian: In a superb chapter on Dante and his conception of paradise and the cosmos, Rovelli writes: “Our culture is foolish to keep science and poetry separated,” adding: “they are two tools to open our eyes...Ian Thomson at The Guardian: In a superb chapter on Dante and his conception of paradise and the cosmos, Rovelli writes: “Our culture is foolish to keep science and poetry separated,” adding: “they are two tools to open our eyes to the complexity and beauty of the world.” Like the Italian scientist-writer Primo Levi, Rovelli sees no incompatibility between the two cultures, only mutual attraction. In Lucretius’s long philosophical poem, On the Nature of Things, he finds a luminous celebration of the mysteries of the natural world that anticipated a large part of contemporary physics. Atoms are the sole “building blocks” of the universe, Lucretius observed. Lucretius did not know it, but he was writing about the quintessential atom of life – carbon – at a time when atomic theory did not exist. On the Nature of Things only became “modern” in 1417, however, when the papal scribe and humanist Poggio Bracciolini chanced on the last surviving manuscript of the poem in a German monastery. Subsequently, the poem was translated and disseminated widely. Shakespeare struck a Lucretian note in Romeo and Juliet, Rovelli writes, where the phantasmagoric Queen Mab is believed to have a “team of little atomies” at her command. Certainly Lucretius was ahead of his time. Girolamo Savonarola, the firebrand church reformer of Renaissance Florence, fulminated against his pagan-era theory of atoms, which seemed to militate against Christian absolutism. Throughout, Rovelli repudiates religious fundamentalists of any denomination – but also rejects the idea that science is ever settled. more here. [...]



Saturday Poem

2017-01-21T11:56:00Z

Discovery I believe in the great discovery. I believe in the man who will make the discovery. I believe in the fear of the man who will make the discovery. I believe in his face going white, His queasiness, his...Discovery I believe in the great discovery. I believe in the man who will make the discovery. I believe in the fear of the man who will make the discovery. I believe in his face going white, His queasiness, his upper lip drenched in cold sweat. I believe in the burning of his notes, burning them into ashes, burning them to the last scrap. I believe in the scattering of numbers, scattering them without regret. I believe in the man’s haste, in the precision of his movements, in his free will. I believe in the shattering of tablets, the pouring out of liquids, the extinguishing of rays. I am convinced this will end well, that it will not be too late, that it will take place without witnesses. I’m sure no one will find out what happened, not the wife, not the wall, not even the bird that might squeal in its song. I believe in the refusal to take part. I believe in the ruined career. I believe in the wasted years of work. I believe in the secret taken to the grave. These words soar for me beyond all rules without seeking support from actual examples. My faith is strong, blind, and without foundation. . by Wislawa Szymborska from Poems New and Collected Harvest Book, Harcourt [...]



Reading the Classic Novel That Predicted Trump

2017-01-21T11:36:20Z

Beverly Gage in The New York Times: The anxiety began well before the Cleveland convention, where the candidate of the “Forgotten Men,” the one who declared Americans “the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth,” seemed likely to...Beverly Gage in The New York Times: The anxiety began well before the Cleveland convention, where the candidate of the “Forgotten Men,” the one who declared Americans “the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth,” seemed likely to clinch his party’s presidential nomination. Doremus Jessup, the protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” sees something dark and terrible brewing in American politics — the potential for “a real fascist dictatorship” led by the up-and-coming populist candidate Berzelius Windrip. Friends scoff at this extravagant concern. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly!” they assure him. But Jessup, a small-town Vermont newspaper editor and a “mild, rather indolent and somewhat sentimental liberal,” worries about the devastation ahead. “What can I do?” he agonizes night after night. “Oh — write another editorial viewing-with-alarm, I suppose!” When Election Day comes to pass, Jessup learns that his editorials have not done the trick. The reality of the new situation feels unspeakably awful, “like the long-dreaded passing of a friend.” Jessup faces the presidential inauguration in a state of high distress, convinced that the nation is careering toward its doom, but that nobody — least of all his fellow liberals — can do much to stop it. “It Can’t Happen Here” is a work of dystopian fantasy, one man’s effort in the 1930s to imagine what it might look like if fascism came to America. At the time, the obvious specter was Adolf Hitler, whose rise to power in Germany provoked fears that men like the Louisiana senator Huey Long or the radio priest Charles Coughlin might accomplish a similar feat in the United States. Today, Lewis’s novel is making a comeback as an analogy for the Age of Trump. Within a week of the 2016 election, the book was reportedly sold out on Amazon.com. More here [...]



Trump’s forbidden city

2017-01-21T11:28:39Z

David Rennie in The Economist: It says a lot about the Qing emperors’ worldview that, for much of the time their dynasty lasted, relations with foreign powers were handled by an Office of Barbarian Control. Jump to late 2016 and...David Rennie in The Economist: It says a lot about the Qing emperors’ worldview that, for much of the time their dynasty lasted, relations with foreign powers were handled by an Office of Barbarian Control. Jump to late 2016 and the dawn of the Trump era in America, and life for the nearly 180 ambassadors resident in Washington, DC is almost as humiliating. Before the election, modern-day envoys spent months talking to foreign-policy experts signed up with Hillary Clinton’s campaign – a veritable administration-in-waiting, housed in think-tanks, universities and consulting firms, comprising several hundred advisers organised into working groups and sub-groups and busy holding conference calls and sending one another memos. Even the farthest-flung country had friends within this system: a former National Security Council director with a passion for the Caucasus, say, who might soon serve as a principal deputy assistant secretary of state (an actual job title). In contrast, embassies anxious to know what Republican foreign-policy grandees were telling Trump faced an unusual hurdle. During 2016 dozens of conservative thinkers and bigwigs from both Bush presidencies signed “Never Trump” letters declaring the businessman a terrifying menace to global security – though since his win, Washington being what it is, some are now pondering whether they might work for him anyway. For foreign envoys, Trump’s victory was as disruptive and confusing as a coup behind imperial palace walls. Diplomats and news outlets found themselves tracking down anyone with a sense of the new ruler’s thinking, from business partners to old friends to anyone in the small band of advisers who accompanied him on his journey from insurgent to president-elect. Even arranging phone calls of congratulation to Trump from heads of state and government was a source of angst. Foreign diplomats have spent days swapping wry tales of repeat-dialling the Trump Tower in Manhattan, the brass and pink-marble temple to 1980s style that has become the hard-to-access centre of American power, like a vertical Forbidden City. Some heads of government were offered calls with the president-elect at such short notice that they ended up talking to Trump on their mobile phones. More here. [...]



How to Be Civil in an Uncivil World

2017-01-20T17:34:10Z

James Ryerson in the New York Times: Americans seem to be forever undergoing a “crisis” of civility. Year after year, we’re told that the norms dictating decent behavior are eroding; that we’ve lost sight of the basic regard we owe...James Ryerson in the New York Times: Americans seem to be forever undergoing a “crisis” of civility. Year after year, we’re told that the norms dictating decent behavior are eroding; that we’ve lost sight of the basic regard we owe our fellow participants in public life; that the contentiousness of our culture threatens to undermine our democracy. Worrisome stuff, of course — but a little vague. If, as any historian will tell you, people in all times and places have been alarmed by this development (the ancient Romans called it pugna verborum, or “the battle of words”), you might wonder how urgent, or even actual, the trouble really is. Then there’s the problem of definition. One man’s civility is another man’s repression. Were the Act Up protesters in the 1980s so indecorous as to disqualify themselves from political conversation, as their critics charged? Or were they the ones demanding civility, in the form of simple recognition of the lives of people with AIDS? Is Donald Trump dangerously boorish? Or is he, too, resisting an ersatz decorum, one he and his supporters call “political correctness,” which they claim honors the feelings of everyone but the beleaguered white working-class male? One response to these complexities is to abandon the quest for civility, deeming it a historically fanciful, hopelessly imprecise ideal. Another response, exemplified by the political scientist Keith J. Bybee’s slim and artful treatise HOW CIVILITY WORKS (Stanford Briefs/Stanford University, paper, $12.99), is to suggest we continue to fight for civility but learn to think of it less romantically. More here. [...]



Talking Heads front man David Byrne wants to put you in a neuroscience experiment

2017-01-20T17:28:25Z

Rebecca Robbins in Stat: The new immersive art installation here in the heart of Silicon Valley was dreamed up by David Byrne, the front man of the Talking Heads, and loosely modeled after the work of neuroscience and psychology labs...Rebecca Robbins in Stat: The new immersive art installation here in the heart of Silicon Valley was dreamed up by David Byrne, the front man of the Talking Heads, and loosely modeled after the work of neuroscience and psychology labs at top institutions like Caltech and Harvard. So when I showed up at a warehouse on a rainy Sunday morning earlier this month, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I experienced was light on science but heavy on amusing novelty. I trekked with a group of nine fellow visitors through four rooms, each the site of a quasi-scientific experiment. After an hour, I’d navigated moral dilemmas, got tricked into believing a moving object was standing still, predicted (with limited success) the winners of an election, and found myself experiencing life as though I’d been turned into a doll. The vibe could hardly get more surreal. At a point, one of our guides, cloaked in a lime-green lab coat, capped off a discussion about the unreliability of our gut instinct and our vision by musing: “Is it possible that we’re surrogate avatars walking around interacting with and processing data in our virtual reality? Do you think that I’m real? Do you think that you’re real? And what is reality?” The installation, dubbed “The Institute Presents: Neurosociety,” was co-created by Byrne, a science enthusiast. For this project, Byrne and his collaborator, the technology investor Mala Gaonkar, went on something of a listening tour of research labs around the world to gather ideas, advice, and source material. More here. [...]



A Nobel Prize winner’s guide to living longer

2017-01-20T16:01:02Z

Adriana Barton in The Globe and Mail: By the time we get wrinkles and grey hair, sayings like “age is just a number” start to sound a bit rosy. But on a biological level, there’s no doubt that some people...Adriana Barton in The Globe and Mail: By the time we get wrinkles and grey hair, sayings like “age is just a number” start to sound a bit rosy. But on a biological level, there’s no doubt that some people age at a slower rate than others – and not just because they won the genetic lottery. Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who peers deep into human cells, insists that we have some control over how fast we decline. How we eat, move, think and feel can either help keep our cells healthy or put them into early retirement, according to a growing body of research cited in her new book, The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, published earlier this month. How our cells age, it turns out, largely depends on the length of our telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes. Tucked inside every cell, chromosomes carry our genetic information and help ensure DNA is accurately copied every time a cell divides. If chromosomes were shoelaces, telomeres would be the plastic tips that keep them from fraying. But telomeres shorten with each cell division. And when they get too short, cells lose their ability to divide and renew the body tissues that depend on them. A lack of new cells in the walls of our blood vessels, for instance, could lead to hardening arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack. The good news is that telomeres can lengthen, too. More here. [...]



Lars von Trier "Melancholia" - Ending scene

2017-01-20T15:13:58Z

Video length: 3:26

Video length: 3:26

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